Have you ever been to a Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland? If you have, you know that is a medieval fishing village, yet also a yachting community that straddles small-town rural village Irish life and an international cosmopolitan environment. Kinsale enjoys the best of many worlds. Our population varies between maybe 3000 in the dead of winter when most people have fled to warmer climates, to 10,000 or more in the height of summer when everyone is in residence and all the tourists have descended.
This article is not about the hustle and bustle of an active tourist town, but rather the joys and pleasures in a quick “walk about” town center that are only available in the autumn here. Since its fall, or autumn is the Irish will say, life is moving a little slower than it did in the summer. You’ll overhear local catching up and, always, talking about the weather. If you just to start every conversation with a comment about whether it’s a fine, or rainy day, you’ll fit right in.
Looking down at the map of Kinsale town center, you’ll see a small square bordered by shops. Surrounding that would be another five streets of businesses with three or four long access roads, each leading into this tangle. It is the outside streets, running through town and out by the pier that comprise the busiest section of town. Built in medieval times, with narrow streets, this half a mile square contains a myriad of fantastic, charming, Irish experiences. This article will take you through a few of my favorites.
Your walk around starts at one corner, coming down into the town, at St. Multose Church, built in 1190, which is currently all decked out having just finished the Harvest Service. Harvest is a big season in Ireland, a surprise to our American visitors, who put the celebration together with Thanksgiving. A quick stop in the church reveals lovely stained-glass windows, and a quiet place to contemplate ancient history as it mixes with the modern world. You continue out the door taking the right and heading into the center of town.
As you make the turn, you pass by the Tap Tavern, which should be a stop for you later that evening. There is no pub in Kinsale quite as picturesque as “The Tap.” A hangout for local actor types, it has several small rooms where you can find a place to chat with your friends or, if you’re up for mixing with the locals, have a seat at the bar. The Ghost Tour starts from here, so you’re likely to see all kinds of believable and not so believable characters.
Enjoy walking down the street as it meanders into the center of town, with art galleries, restaurants, and businesses but be sure to stop at Eileen Murphy’s paint shop. The sign over the door says Murphy’s and you will know from the right-hand window that they sell paint, but the left-hand side of the store is jam-packed with an amazing assortment of a household and gift items. Since it is autumn the windows have stained-glass lamps and other cozy homey items, geared to make us think of lovely evenings by a turf fire. As you look around in the store notice that it doubles for Kinsale’s drop-off place and news center. Eileen does the town a great service by offering to hold on to something from one person so that another person can come by and get it later in the day. And of course, with every drop off we get to hear the latest news about such things as Kinsale standing with the Tiny Town’s Campaign this year.
There are many fantastic places to shop for gifts in Kinsale, each with their own reasons for being so charming. The two others I recommend most would-be Hamish Hawken’s and the Perryville House gift store. The owner of Hamish Hawkens has a practical eye and at the same time everything has an unusual flair that makes it seem “one of a kind” when you get it home. Perryville House has the best Irish pottery and consistently charming housewares. But as I said, shopping is such an individual experience in Kinsale has dozens of stores each with their own unique flair. I’m sure you’ll find several that will charm your heart.
Finally, when it comes time for you to stop and rest your feet you also have many options. If you want are thinking of coffee or lunch I would recommend either Cucina’s upscale nouvelle cuisine, or Salvi’s Café which is easy-going and open to moms with buggies. If the weather is nice there are a couple of cafes where you can sit outside and enjoy the buzz of the town. Dinner, however, is where Kinsale shines. Known as the cuisine capital of Ireland, there are dozens of excellent restaurants, some ethnic, some traditional Irish, and some just fantastic gourmet food. My favorite of the last variety is Max’s wine bar, where they serve dropdead perfect proportions of tasty delectables from a menu designed from what was fresh that day, all enhanced by fantastic wines. Fishy Fishy is happy and dependable and definitely the restaurant in town that attracts the biggest buzz. Located just behind the rose garden off the pier Road, don’t be surprised if in a busy season you might have a small line waiting to get in. The Blue Haven serves delicious food and can accommodate travelers at times when other restaurants may be either closed or booked up. Just the other night when we were in there, we were enjoying traditional Irish music, as we ate in the bar.
Wherever you go in Kinsale, whether you stay here for a night in a B&B or hotel, or for several nights in a self catering accommodation, you’ll find our town friendly, interesting, and charming. You have only to surf the net for Kinsale to see that many people have great memories of their time here. But in my heart, there is no better time than the autumn.